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Sports Column | Les Winkeler: College football players' health is on the line

Sports Column | Les Winkeler: College football players' health is on the line

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If you’ve been ambivalent about college athletes being paid, the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, Conference USA, the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt should have sharpened your focus on the matter.

Despite the fact that more than 1,000 Americans are losing their life to the ravages of COVID-19 each day, these conferences and the august institutions they represent, have decided that the world cannot exist without college football. All other college football has been shelved for the year.

If there is any game that should be shelved for the duration of the pandemic, it is football.

It is the antithesis of social distancing. Obviously, the football draws a crowd, but even when the ball isn’t in play the offenses and defenses are huddling. And, when those big bodies collide, body fluids fly.

Don’t know if the term is still in use today, but we used to refer to huge hits as a “slobberknocker.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure it out.

I’m pretty sure being showered with another person’s saliva doesn’t mesh well with Center for Disease Control guidelines for dealing with the virus.

There is only one reason to proceed with football — notice I didn’t say one “good” reason.

Follow the money.

College football is a $4 billion industry.

Television makes big money from the college games. High profile coaches earn millions of dollars. Businesses in towns like Oxford, Mississippi, Norman, Oklahoma and Manhattan, Kansas rake in big dollars from the five or six home games each year.

The players?

Despite the fact that they drive this massive industry, get nothing but in-kind contributions.

Yeah, I know the argument. They get a free education.

They also put their health on the line every day. The student-athletes go to class every day. They practice. They attend meetings. They have offseason workouts. They travel around the country providing entertainment for millions and ultra-high paying jobs for a select few.

They don’t get a cut of the billions of dollars they help generate. And, at this point in time, I’m not sure there is enough money in the pie to adequately compensate players for their possible exposure to the disease.

Now, with no end to the pandemic in sight, they are being asked to further risk their health.

College presidents have made the claim that players are safer on campus than they would be in their home towns. OK, let’s accept that argument as true. If players are kept in a bubble on campus, that might be true.

However, that goes out the window when a team travels and faces another team.

If the colleges truly had the health of the student—athletes at heart, they’d cancel the season. We’ve lived without Broadway. We’ve lived without Saturday Night Live. We’ve survived a summer with virtually no baseball.

A break from football won’t kill us.

LES WINKELER is the former sports editor for the Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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